What is collapse? Conspiracy or a very real phenomenon?
Posted on 08 February 2011
The concept of collapse of our civilisation is often heard among conspiracy theorists, causing many mainstreamers out there to ignore the concept altogether. But should they? Is it really a word that should be owned by the conspiracy theorists and disregarded accordingly?
We believe we should not disregard it, but, rather than viewing ‘collapse’ through the lens of conspiracy theories, we could understand it in a historical and ecological sense. This then allows us to be realistic about future scenarios.
Have you heard of the global collapse of fish species? If not, you need to watch The End of the Line (see our previous post to watch it easily). You will discover that Atlantic cod stocks were severely overfished in the 1970s and 80s, leading to their abrupt collapse in 1992. In Newfoundland, Canada, the devastating collapse of cod has impoverished entire communities, and the cod stocks have never recovered. Do some more research and you’ll find the sole fisheries in the Irish Sea, the west English Channel, and other locations have become overfished to the point of virtual collapse, according to the UK government’s official Biodiversity Action Plan. The United Kingdom has created elements within this plan to attempt to restore this fishery, but the expanding global human population and demand for fish threatens the stability of these fisheries and the species’ survival.
The Mediterranean bluefin tuna stocks are collapsing right now because of excessive quotas and illegal catches. Conservation biologists regularly note the precipitous decline of other key species too, such as swordfish and sharks. Lose enough of these top-line predators (among other species), and the fear is that the oceanic web of life may collapse. According to this article, geologists at Brown University and the University of Washington have a cautionary tale: lose enough species in the oceans, and the entire ecosystem could collapse. Looking at two of the greatest mass extinctions in Earth’s history, the scientists attribute the ecosystems’ collapse to a loss in the variety of species sharing the same space. It took up to 10 million years after the mass extinctions for the ecosystem to stabilize.
Alternatively, you have probably heard of Colony Collapse Disorder? This is a phenomenon in which worker bees from a beehive or European honey bee colony abruptly disappear. There are all sorts of theories explaining it – environmental change-related stresses, malnutrition, pesticides, migratory beekeeping, genetically modified (GM) crops with pest control characteristics – but it has also been suggested that it may be due to a combination of many factors and that no single factor is the cause. Whatever the reason, the result is terrifying! No more bees, no more pollination, no more food. Find out in this short clip how the dying bee colonies are impacting our food supply and what we can do to save them.
It’s increasingly clear that biodiversity is rapidly declining, worldwide. Species are going extinct before they can be catalogued, and those whose numbers were significant a decade ago have become rare. Without bees, many food crops (apples, soybeans, almonds, peaches, cherries, strawberries, and more) would not bear fruit. Similarly, without a robust bird population, many beetle and locust populations might explode. Without frogs, mosquito and other insect populations may swarm – creating a flow on effect by unbalancing other ecosystem interrelationships. And, without even the microscopic life, like plankton, then the tiny plankton-eaters, which feed the small fish, which feed the bigger fish, which feed the sharks, all crash. Everything is interconnected.
So, what does that mean for us humans? Can we, as a species, collapse too?
In a word…. yes. It has happened before and it can happen again.
In Jared Diamond’s book, Collapse, he argues that the Easter Island society collapsed in isolation entirely due to environmental damage. But there are many other historical accounts of collapse too. There has been societal collapse such as that of the Mayan Civilisation as well as long declines of superpowers like the Roman Empire in Western Europe and the Han Dynasty in East Asia. There have been collapses related to the organisational structures of some societies, such as the collapse of the Soviet Union – occurring due to structural burden in its internal complex system and not due to an external attack.
History includes many examples of the appearance and disappearance of human societies with no obvious explanation but the common factors appearing to contribute to societal collapse are economic, environmental, social and cultural, but they manifest combined effects like a whole system out of balance. In many cases a natural disaster seems to be the immediate cause but this seems insufficient reasoning given other civilisations in similar situations were resilient and survived.
According to experts, the combined breakdown of economic, cultural and social institutions with ecological relationships is perhaps the most common feature of collapse.
So consider this… loss of credibility of the dominating neoliberalist ideology… people’s loss of confidence for their governments in all parts of the world… technology enabling exploitation of depleting resources… the environment’s suffering and diminishing returns hidden from view or not being prioritised… population growth while resources decline… structural weaknesses of the financial system underpinning the global economy… global pandemics… increase in global climate disruption… is the human species threatened?
Is collapse a real ecological concept to pay attention to or will you simply wipe it aside as another conspiracy theory?
UPDATE: The following post is a continuation of our reflection on the subject of collapse: Is the world as we know it going to collapse?